The Braille Monitor February, 2001 Edition
by Chris Kuell
From the Editor: Some years ago now, before food processors were made more or less idiot-proof, I reached into mine to try to make some vegetables stand up again so that I could create thin slices. In my efforts to grab hold of the fallen, I managed to turn on the motor, and the spinning disk then demonstrated just how well it could slice by taking off the end of my index finger. I immediately realized that I needed to get to the hospital, but my first reaction was a mixture of astonishment and fury at my stupidity. I had known perfectly well what could happen, but a split-second's inattention had caused permanent modification of my hand. I was just lucky that I had been the victim and not someone else. I wanted in the worst way to live those seconds over again, but we don't often get those second chances.
Chris Kuell is an up-and-coming leader in the Connecticut affiliate. He is bright and energetic. He is also very thoughtful about the process of coming to terms with blindness. Many of us have grappled with the emotions he talks about in the following story. Perhaps his insight will help others to deal with their own emotional roller coasters. This is what he says:
It happened again this morning, a different scenario with the same result. The breakfast dishes were cleared from the table, and I was using a damp cloth to wipe crumbs into my hand before depositing them into the trash. I wasn't focused on the task, just going through motions I had performed a thousand times before, when I felt a slight pressure against the knuckle of my right thumb. My brain leapt back to the current moment, processing and interpreting what was happening. A glass, left stranded in a corner by my three-year-old daughter, had evaded my pre-wipe scan, which I performed just moments ago. The glass launched over the edge of the table. My reflexes, still pretty good, I stabbed my left hand out into the void in an attempt to retrieve the doomed glass. I touched it ever so briefly along its descent but wasn't even close to catching it. Pulling out an old soccer move, I shot out my foot in an attempt to prevent the impending crash. I succeeded only in jolting the cup and splattering it's contents over a larger area. Then, in a final blow to my ego, the glass shattered into tiny little shards on the recently washed kitchen floor. In a fraction of a second a peaceful morning had been changed into a thankless job of sweeping and vacuuming the floor; washing down the table, chairs, and floor; and removing the glass fragments from sticky, pulpy orange juice.
An amazing transformation then occurred within me. I immediately became enraged. "How could you be so stupid?" I yelled at myself. "Now, what a mess! This is going to take forever to clean up!" I knew I had to do a really good job of cleaning because my family walks around barefoot most of the time. My blood pressure rose, and I felt such aggravation that I had to yell profanities through clenched teeth. Boy, I hate it when this happens!
This was not the first time this Jekyll and Hyde transition has overtaken me; it happens more often than I'd like to admit, when I spill or break things. I tried to get myself under control, knowing how ridiculous it was to feel anger and simultaneously hearing the distant voice of my mother saying, "No need to cry over spilled milk." But still it persisted, this dormant anger within me surfacing in an instant like an erupting volcano. Where does it come from? Am I really like this? Most of the time I am a fairly carefree, even-tempered guy. Am I abnormal or psychotic? After I had finished cleaning up the mess and my blood pressure had returned to normal, I settled in to wash the unbroken dishes and contemplate this rage.
My excessive feelings of aggravation are due in part to my high expectations of myself. I hate to make mistakes. However, there is also a part that takes me back to the time not long ago when I first lost my sight. For me the transition from the sighted world into blindness was difficult. I had trouble accepting my loss of vision and problems adjusting to a sightless world. There were the physical challenges of mobility, reading, and finding things, to name just a few. With time, creativity, and adequate training, I resolved these issues. The mental and emotional challenges, for me, were much more difficult.
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that, before I lost my sight, I had never known a blind person and shared some of the misconceptions believed by many sighted people. When I first became blind I had no concept of what blind people could accomplish, and I felt inferior. For the first several months after I lost my vision I dwelled on the loss of my sight, consumed by feelings of sorrow and inadequacy. I moped about, banging into things, hurting myself, and making messes by knocking things off the table. To put it candidly, I was miserable.
Then, with some not-so-gentle prodding from my wife, I began to get my act together again. I knew I had a long life ahead of me and a family who needed me, so I had better find out how blind people do it--building happy and productive lives. I made a point to meet with several members of our state NFB, and with that encounter I turned the corner on my depression. I met blind people who were living examples of the truth that people could get along fine without sight. They answered my many questions about how to do things that had baffled me and gave me hope that one day soon I, too, could be independent. I started to work harder at my blind skills and reached out to as many blind people as I could to pick their brains regarding blindness issues. As I grew more competent and confident, I found that rather than thinking of my vision loss one hundred percent of the time, I was doing so thirty, then twenty percent of the time. I stopped thinking of myself as blind but rather as just me.
What does any of this have to do with spilled orange juice, broken glass, and my maniac within? The sensible part of my brain realizes that sighted people knock things over all the time as well, perhaps even more than blind people do. And it is really not a traumatic event. So what's the deal with the outburst of anger?
It is simply that I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to destroy feelings of inferiority, to accept blindness for what it really is. The spill took me back a few steps, and I was lashing out against the perceived retreat.
To be honest, events like this morning happen less and less often. I would say I now think about being blind maybe fifteen percent of the time, and that time is mostly productive as I help out in my local NFB chapter or try to offer support to others who are losing their vision. Perhaps it is even a good thing to have an occasional reminder that I'm blind, that blindness can be an evolutionary change for the previously sighted. It is a challenge that can be overcome, and a tremendous amount of strength and insight can be gained from the experience.
My wife still thinks I'm a bit of a lunatic, but that has little to do with spilling. And I certainly can't promise I won't explode the next time I knock a glass over. But I commit to trying always to do better. Hopefully I can turn the energy into positive action--or at least spectacularly clean floors! And on the bright side, I now have fewer dishes to wash.
Now, where is that sponge?